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Politics


What do you want to ask the candidates for your neighborhood council?

In a year where we have a lot of questions we'd like to ask politicians on the national stage, we should also take time to focus closer to home. DC voters will elect hundreds of Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners in November, and we want to make sure you get a chance to ask them about what matters to you.


Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture on Flickr.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (ANCs) are unique, hyper-local elected officials (they represent about 2,000 voters each) that can make significant impacts on the development and landscape of your neighborhood. These positions are non-partisan, meaning there is no primary and the November 8th general election is the only chance you get a chance to vote for these candidates.

Many residents in DC don't even know these officials exist. I remember the first time I voted in DC; on my way to the voting site I was stopped by a nice man with a firm handshake who asked me where I lived. When I told him, he said "Great! You live in my district, and you should vote for me for your ANC commissioner!" Sure enough, his name was on my ballot, and I'll admit it: His handshake won my vote.

Now that I know a little more about how important these leaders can be, I don't recommend the handshake-vetting process. But because of the relative low-profile of these elections, finding out more about the candidates before election day can be a challenge.

We'd like to try and fix that

Greater Greater Washington is in the process of creating a questionnaire that we will send to ANC candidates across the city. After collecting and organizing candidate responses, we will publish our opinions and each candidate's words on the site in a way that you can easily find the information you need to make informed choices about your local ANC race.

We'd like your help in crafting questions for this questionnaire. Please fill out the form below with questions you would like ANC candidates to answer publicly. We'll sort through your suggestions to help us finalize the questionnaire we distribute in September.

Because these elections are so local, we're looking for questions relevant specifically to your neighborhood or ANC, or they could apply over a wider range like much of your ward, or even the whole city.

What do you wish you had answers to?

Why doesn't this area have more grocery stores? A dog park? What should be done about that terrible intersection? Here's your chance to ask the people who might represent you on these issues.

Not sure which ANC or district you're in? Find out with this tool!

Politics


In defense of hyperlocal government in DC

Last week, Greater Greater Washington's David Whitehead encouraged readers who live in DC to run for Advisory Neighborhood Commission office, a position that makes you part of a group that weighs in on a number of hyperlocal issues from housing to transportation. Some commented that DC would be better off without ANCs, but I don't think that'd would help the city.


Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

In his post, David explained the role that ANCs play in shaping DC policy, from working with restaurants to secure liquor licenses to giving input on proposed developments. While ANCs can't actually make rules or decisions, District agencies give their opinions "great weight," which makes them very influential.

David also implored readers file to run for ANC office, which there's still time to do (you can also run a write-in campaign without circulating petitions, a move I'd say is especially worth looking into for seats that will have no candidate appear on the ballot).

A few readers, however, rejected the notion that ANCs are useful in the first place. After one said they'd prefer to abolish ANCs altogether, another said:

Yes! Democracy is great. Hyperlocal democracy is terrible. It's bad enough that we as a metropolitan area have to deal with infighting among counties and three state-level jurisdictions. A race among ANCs to block development in a race to become the one corner of a quadrant to stay car-friendly and car-dependent and value-inflated and "peaceful" is just a mess of perverse incentives.
ANCs really aren't so bad

As an ANC commissioner, I'm always curious about the perspective of people who want to abolish ANCs. I have an obvious bias in the matter, but I think those that assume ANCs are a road block to development and progressive ideas would find that most—if not all—of the "obstructionism" would just transfer over to citizens associations in their absence.

In fact, since ANCs are prohibited by law from suing, the incidence of plainly dilatory tactics on the part of those who reflexively oppose things would probably be even more pronounced if all the time/resources currently behind ANCs instead went into resurrecting or rejuvenating neighborhood associations that now have a secondary role.

I have two main thoughts on why ANCs are useful:

First, I find that in general (there are always exceptions), the ANC tends to be the moderating force in the neighborhood relative to citizens associations and groups of affected neighbors, who tend to be more "anti-development" and opposed to "progressive ideas." A well-run ANC, and there are many—far more than there are dysfunctional ones—serves as an advocate for its community, but also works to be a forum for all different viewpoints and tries to broker a compromise weighted in the community's interests.

Second, the plain fact is that some developments, some liquor licenses, some transportation ideas—are just bad ideas and need to be opposed. In the vast majority of cases, ANCs are reacting to things, most of which can be made better or at the very least made adequate from the community's perspective. But sometimes, certain proposals are just bad ideas and should be stopped. There's also a realm of reasonable judgement. You can be a good commissioner and just have a different perspective on smart growth issues than others without being some cartoonish NIMBY.

I think the second point is a little harder to appreciate unless you actually take on the role. Supporting something in a theoretical sense often sounds far better than turns out in practice. And sometimes, frankly, you have to decide to pick your battles.

It's like any other level of politics. If your engaged constituents overwhelmingly prefer one course of action, and they're the ones that show up, they're the ones that write the letters, they're the ones that bend your ear—then yeah, you have an obligation to listen to them and you have to weigh the cost of voting your beliefs and whether it's worth doing in every case.

And eliminating ANCs isn't some panacea for good governance or progressive change. San Francisco has restrictive zoning and no ANCs. Chicago is full of corruption and has no ANCs. What ANCs are is just a way to institutionalize the community involvement of a city full of very smart, very engaged, and very resourceful people who care a ton about what goes on in their neighborhoods.

Ninety-five percent of these people have no broader political ambition, and many of them are professionally high-caliber and could be doing something far more lucrative with their time. Even those who get involved for "selfish" reasons (e.g. a project that impacts their home or their building) often grow into the role and end up contributing far beyond the narrow scope of their original interest.

All that said, the thesis of David's article is absolutely correct: The only way that people who believe in a smart-growth vision, or any other vision for that matter, will be able to affect the course of events is by getting involved and moving the median point of conversation in their direction.

ANCs are not going anywhere, so you might as well run for one and try to make a difference. You absolutely can and it is exceptionally rewarding. You'll learn a lot about your neighborhood, you'll learn a lot about your city, you'll meet a lot of really cool people, and you can have a tangible impact on the place you live in. The satisfaction of helping people is why the vast majority of us do it, and if you're doing it for the right reasons, you'll have many stories to share of doing exactly that.

Politics


You could be an ANC commissioner, and as a reader of this blog, you really should think about it

DC's Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners have a thankless but important job. For no pay, they advise on thousands of neighborhood-level decisions a year: everything from whether or not that restaurant can serve liquor, to whether or not that building is going to meet the needs of the neighborhood. You should consider running. If you're elected, you'll make a difference in your corner of town.


Photo by stu_spivack on Flickr.

DC is split into 299 single member districts (SMDs) organized into 40 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs). By design, each SMD (which are supposed to encompass around 2,000 residents) elects one commissioner to represent their interests. ANCs meet regularly to decide on many community level decisions, including development decisions and permitting.

ANCs have a strangely powerful but also powerless role in DC politics and development. They technically do not have political authority, and instead their opinions and resolutions are given a legal "great weight" that other DC agencies are supposed to (and most often do) respect and follow.

That being said, there are some areas where an ANC's great weight is more influential than others. In the development field, for example, any changes to current regulations must go through the ANC for public input, and because commissioners control these proceedings, they wield significant amounts of power. Commissioners help to broker agreements, and moderate their forum as a place for public debate and negotiation.

ANC elections are non-partisan, and open to any DC resident who has lived in their neighborhood for at least 60 days before petitions are due. It is relatively simple to get your name on the ballot: you only need to collect 25 signatures from your neighbors to qualify. Because of the relative low visibility of these positions and elections, these races are decided by very small amounts of votes—30 votes can sway an election. In ANC races, every vote really counts.

What's more, many races go uncontested, and some seats even stay vacant for lack of interest. 86 SMDs are currently uncontested, and in 153 districts, there is only one contender. That means if there is a lot of opportunity for neighborhood leaders to step forward.

Papers for potential candidates are current available to be picked up at the DC Board of Elections, and as of July 22nd, 642 DC residents have picked up petitions.


Map from DC Office of ANCs - click for a closer view. Has someone picked up papers in your district? Will you?

I imagine many in the Greater Greater Washington community would make excellent ANC commissioners. But maybe you're worried because you don't feel qualified, or don't have a clear picture of what the job looks like.

Here is some advice from fellow Greater Greater Washington readers who also happen to be ANC commissioners:

Daniel Warwick (2B02):

To anyone considering running for ANC:

Serving as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner is an unique and humbling experience.

It is an honor working with your neighbors to improve your community. Commissioners get to know the minutia of obscure liquor licensing, zoning, historic preservation, and public space regulations. More importantly, you get to know what's happening where you live. Improving your neighborhood can mean supporting the first net-zero office redevelopment in the District of Columbia, encouraging the Public Space Committee to put pedestrians and bikes first, or working with an applicant to adapt their proposed development.

It's very easy for a Commissioner to oppose everything. The typical job of an ANC is to be obstructionist, but a greater commissioner tries to say "Interesting idea--lets get some folks together and find something everyone can support." Being an ANC Commissioner is a tough balance and is frustrating at times, but is one of the greatest honors I can imagine.

You should run.

Tom Quinn (3E04):
I can walk all over my SMD and point out new trees, crosswalks, parking signs, some scant bike infrastructure and CaBi stations, sidewalks, etc. All things that we had a role in getting installed, yet most people have no idea. But a lot of the things I've worked on have never borne fruit, so to not go crazy you have to accept from the start that a lot of ideas are not going anywhere and just hope that it feels rewarding.

We've gotten a lot done and I was driven to get involved in part because my predecessor expended all of her energy fighting development and no energy on positive change. So to me it has been worth it.

Thinking about it? Decide soon, your 25 signatures are due by August 10th. Want to talk about it more? Get in touch; I have some ideas for you - dwhitehead@ggwash.org.

Politics


You can help shape Silver Spring's urban future

Silver Spring isn't a city, but it faces the challenges of one. Its Citizens Advisory Board, which advises the Montgomery County Council, has eight empty seats. If you want to help shape Silver Spring, from how it grows to how people get around, joining the board is the best way.


The Silver Spring Civic Building, where the advisory board meets each month. Photo by the author.

After decades of decline, Silver Spring is booming. Thousands of new homes have been built in the past few years, and more are still coming. We're home to well-regarded local brewers, butchers, and ice cream makers. A new civic building, town square, and library have given this community places to gather and celebrate.

Yet this rebirth is fragile. Rising home prices have led to worries about displacement and gentrification. Years of Purple Line construction could disrupt local businesses. There are ongoing concerns about crime and homelessness. And there's a tension between the reality of an urban, diverse, and inclusive place and some neighbors who want it to be suburban and exclusive.

Silver Spring looks like and functions as a city, but like most communities in the DC area, it's unincorporated, meaning all local government takes place at the county level. We have a County Councilmember, Tom Hucker, who represents all of eastern Montgomery County. But downtown Silver Spring and adjacent neighborhoods don't have a mayor or city council to speak for them exclusively.

However, there are Montgomery County's five Citizens Advisory Boards, each of which are appointed by the County Council to be that community's voice to the county government. They're similar to the District's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in that they don't make laws, but they have some influence on issues you might care about if you read this blog, including transportation, economic development, housing, young people, and the environment.

However, unlike the ANCs, they're not elected, and they represent a much bigger area, sometimes as many as 200,000 people. Each board member serves a three-year term. They don't get paid, but they can get reimbursed for travel costs.


Montgomery County's 5 Regional Services Centers.

There are five Citizens Advisory Boards in Montgomery County: Silver Spring (which includes Silver Spring inside the Beltway, Four Corners, and Takoma Park), Bethesda-Chevy Chase (which includes Potomac and Rockville), Mid-County (Wheaton, Aspen Hill, and Olney), East County (White Oak, Colesville, and Burtonsville), and Upcounty (Gaithersburg, Germantown, and beyond).

The Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board has eighteen seats for people who live or work in Silver Spring and Takoma Park. Right now, there are eight empty seats. If you want to see this community continue to grow, attract new businesses, retain its diversity, and be a better place to get around, the board is an excellent way to get involved.

If you'd like to be on the Citizens Advisory Board, go here to learn more or send your application. You've got until August 1 to apply.

Once applications are in, Montgomery County executive Ike Leggett will appoint board members, and the county council will approve them.

Politics


Is Tim Kaine a good pick for urbanism? Here's what our writers think.

Tim Kaine is the Democratic candidate for Vice President. Currently one of Virginia's US senators, Kaine was the state's governor from 2006-2010, and its lieutenant governor for the four years before that. We asked our contributors what Kaine has done for and against urbanism.

Kaine was a mayor, so he should understand cities

David Cranor said,

Kaine wasn't just a senator and a governor. He was the mayor or Richmond, which, while not DC, is a pretty big city. If elected, Kaine be only the second VP ever who had previously been a mayor, and he will be the first former mayor of a major American city—Calvin Coolidge was Mayor of Northhampton, Massachusetts New Hampshire which is very nice, but not urban.

No former mayor of a city as large as Richmond has ever been elected to either president or VP. Grover Cleveland was mayor of Buffalo, but it was about 33% smaller than Richmond was when Kaine was mayor. So, more than maybe anyone to ever gets this far, he knows about city leadership, municipal government and the problems of urban areas. I think DC could only benefit from a VP (or a president) with an urban sensibility.

But... Sarah Palin was a mayor too, so it's not magic.

Also, Virginia and Maryland's congressional delegation often opposes DC Statehood (or home rule really) even when politically they might not, because DC having the ability to pass a commuter tax is something they think would be harmful to their states. To Kaine's credit he supports it despite this risk to his own constituents. That's not necessarily an urban thing, but it shows support for DC.

Kaine has a lot of experience in housing

Joanne Pierce pointed out,

Kaine was on the board of Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) of Virginia from 1986-1994 and 2011-2013, starting before he got into local politics.

He helped represent HOME against Nationwide Insurance, which had labeled minority neighborhoods as undesirable and pulled its agents from those areas. He also helped represent HOME against General Services Corp, which made apartment brochures that featured more white people and lacked equal housing logos and language. Staff members testified that company management talked to them about how to deter black people from renting in their properties.

Soon after the Nationwide Insurance case he was elected to city council.

Jeff Lemieux directed us toward Vox's Matt Yglesias' write-up on Kaine, which said:
Before Tim Kaine was a senator or a governor or a lieutenant governor or a mayor, he was a lawyer. A lawyer whose very first case was a pro bono assignment representing an African-American woman who'd been turned away from an apartment. The landlord told her it had already been claimed when she stopped by and said she wanted to look at it. She was suspicious and had a colleague call back later that day, and the landlord said it was still available.

Kaine won the case and began specializing in fair-housing issues as a lawyer.

Kaine retained his interest in the subject as he entered politics, winning a $100 million jury verdict against Nationwide for discriminatory lending practices as mayor of Richmond. In the Senate, he's continued to champion fair-housing issues even though it's an issue that doesn't exactly have a ton of appeal to swing voters or well-connected lobbyists.

With Kaine as vice president in the Clinton administration, people worried about housing discrimination will always have an open lane to the president.

Kaine on transit, the environment, and more

Canaan Merchant noted that Kaine had a big impact on transit in our region:

As governor, he was largely responsible for building the Silver Line above ground in Tysons, which happened because the Feds would have walked away otherwise. So he can take a a good deal of credit for the Silver Line but it's also unfortunate that the climate was such that the line could only be done in a way that may be a hindrance to other elements in Tysons transformation.
Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, pointed us toward a Facebook post from Danny Paugher of Virginians for High Speed Rail:
Under Kaine, Virginia launched two Amtrak Regional trains, one to Lynchburg and a 2nd to Richmond which would be extended to Norfolk. Virginia has 4 of the top 6 best performing Regional routes in Amtrak's entire network thanks to his vision and leadership.
Miles Grant said he's thankful for a small change Kaine helped push through:
I'd include Kaine's strong support for Virginia's bar/restaurant smoking ban as a big public health win. I thought it would take years, then Kaine personally jumped in, helped reach a deal with Speaker Howell, and it was done in no time. He gets little credit because it's one of those progressive wins that, once it's in place, everyone loves it and assumes it was always that way.
Julie Lawson isn't so sure about Kaine's environmental record:
In the vein of climate and environmental protection, he has not been great on offshore drilling. In 2006, as governor, he vetoed a bill to end a moratorium on offshore drilling. But as senator he was quite supportive of it, including introducing legislation to expand exploration in 2013. This statement on the issue from his Senate site is written in a tone that does make me think he considers a variety of stakeholders and is open to rethinking his positions with compelling reasons.
Joanne pointed us toward CityLab's article on Kaine's urbanist contributions:
I'm interested interested to learn that Kaine preserved farmland from development. Under the rules, the money is used to buy the rights to develop on farmland for the purpose of not developing at all, preserving the land and helping the working farms. Kaine also preserved roughly 424,000 acres of land to be set aside for conservation and public recreation.

"Along the lines of what Julie said about considering a variety of stakeholders," Joanne said, "it looks like Kaine is an urbanist who also takes into consideration the benefit of land as a public resource. He seems to take a balanced approach to development."

Finally, David Edmondson pointed out that Kaine "got a thumbs-up from Jeff Speck on Twitter, which should count for something:"

Jeff Speck is referring to regulations that said residential subdivisions couldn't be composed of only culs de sac, which are often an inefficient use of public resources and which cut down on how connected areas are. Kaine supported that change. Unfortunately, the Virginia's transportation board rolled back the regulation two years after it passed.

Schwartz expanded on Jeff Speck's input by adding:

Governor Kaine and the Republican House leadership also worked together on other measures to link land use and transportation. The 2007 omnibus transportation bill not only included the connectivity requirements for subdivisions but a requirement that localities identify urban development areas, or "UDA's." Both parties recognized that spread out development imposed significant transportation costs to the state and sought to promote more compact development. Unfortunately, like subdivision street connection standards, UDA's were weakened a few years later when they were made voluntary, instead of mandatory.

Politics


Trump claims to want to save our cities, but his and his party's policies would do the opposite

On Thursday, I turned on the TV to hear from the Republican nominee for President. As an urbanist, I was particularly struck by Donald Trump saying he's the candidate who can save failing cities. That's ironic given that he seems to loathe most of the people in cities, and his party convention approved the most anti-urban policy platform in recent memory.


Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr.

This specific part really stood out to me:

This Administration has failed America's inner cities. ... It's failed them on education. It's failed them on jobs. It's failed them on crime. It's failed them on every single level. When I am President, I will work to ensure that all of our kids are treated equally, and protected equally. Every action I take, I will ask myself: does this make life better for young Americans in Baltimore, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Ferguson who have as much of a right to live out their dreams as any other child in America? Any other child.
Trump would have us believe that he's the man who can fix America's cities, despite his lack of policy specifics and a seeming hatred for the diversity that makes our cities (and our country) truly great.

Yet he's running for the presidency from a party whose platform is the most anti-urban it has ever been. Their platform gets to this pretty early on, on page 5 of 66:

The current Administration has a different approach. It subordinates civil engineering to social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit. Its ill-named Livability Initiative is meant to "coerce people out of their cars." This is the same mentality that once led Congress to impose by fiat a single maximum speed limit for the entire nation, from Manhattan to Montana. Our 1980 Republican Platform pledged to repeal that edict. After the election of Ronald Reagan, we did.

Now we make the same pledge regarding the current problems in transportation policy. We propose to remove from the Highway Trust Fund programs that should not be the business of the federal government.

More than a quarter of the Fund's spending is diverted from its original purpose. One fifth of its funds are spent on mass transit, an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities. Additional funds are used for bike-share programs, sidewalks, recreational trails, landscaping, and historical renovations. Other beneficiaries of highway money are ferry boats, the federal lands access program, scenic byways, and education initiatives. These worthwhile enterprises should be funded through other sources.

... We reaffirm our intention to end federal support for boondoggles like California's high-speed train to nowhere.

[Emphasis added]

It seems that while Trump claims he can save America's cities, the GOP wants to make them impossible. That's not good for city-dwellers or anyone else in the country, since cities are the economic engines that power America.

Trevor Noah really summed up the conundrum of the GOP's urban policy in a Daily Show episode on Tuesday. The key part starts around 3:50 in the video.

Yes, many of our communities have broken homes. But often it's because the parents have to face huge hurdles just to get by. Taking two buses to get to their first job, or unable to get to good jobs in the suburbs because there is no transit. Other times, maybe it's because fathers (and sons) were arrested or killed over minor traffic infractions.

And many of these situations are built upon a history of segregation and separation that were the direct result of redlining and a lack of fair housing laws and access to opportunity. Apparently, laws meant to help disadvantaged people find housing or jobs are "social engineering."

Trump went on to describe a horrifying scene in America's cities. Not only have our policies failed urban dwellers, but crime is up, up, up. It's up 17% in America's 50 largest cities, he says.

And that's true. Crime did increase from 2014 to 2015. According to Trump, "that's the largest increase in 25 years."

The fact, though, is that it's the only increase in 25 years. Crime has been falling since 1991 in those 50 cities. In 2014, it hit the lowest point in decades. Trump's inflammatory rhetoric serves only to frighten people into voting on their baser instincts, and it marks a particularly despicable turn in our nation's politics.

Even with a 17% increase in 2015, crime was still lower that year than it was in 2009, the year President Obama took office.

There was a lot to be frightened of in that speech—especially cities and immigrants and Muslims, if Trump is to be believed. That was by design.

Frankly, I'm more afraid of the damage that Trump and the GOP could do to our cities than I am of anything mentioned in Trump's list of terrors of the night. The candidate's xenophobic remarks and his party's disregard for anything or anyone remotely related to cities is horrifying.

I think we should talk about what a Trump/Republican presidency might mean for our cities and our community.

Politics


Silverman, White, Gray, and White can form a paint caucus on the next DC Council

Tuesday night, three incumbents lost their primaries for re-election to the DC Council: Robert White beat Vincent Orange at large, Vincent Gray unseated Yvette Alexander in Ward 7, and Trayon White took out LaRuby May in Ward 8. Many observers noticed that there's something similar about all of their last names: They're (achromatic) hues.

We supported Robert White and Gray, and from a policy standpoint, this election means a big step up for the quality of the DC Council. White and Gray will likely cast many better votes than Orange or Alexander would, and write better quality, better thought through legislation as well.

But putting all of the serious stuff aside for a moment, after each election recently I've made a graph of the number of elected officials whose names are also on the Photoshop palette.

While Orange, the most colorful sitting member (literally) lost, the three new ones bring the total up to four, the all-time high last achieved in 2011. That's the three victorious challengers plus Elissa Silverman, who came onto the council two years ago.

(Note that these folks haven't technically won election; they all are on the ballot in November. But in overwhelmingly Democratic DC, a Democrat is virtually assured of winning the general election.)

This chart excludes Carol Schwartz, whose name derives from the German word "schwarz," meaning black. She was on the council from 1985-1989 and again from 1997 to 2009, when Michael Brown defeated her for a non-Democratic at-large seat.

Are there any more Quentin Tarantino characters waiting in the wings for 2018? There's often speculation about a comeback for Kwame Brown or Michael Brown (which, let me say, would be a terrible idea). Orange also could seek another seat in the future; it wouldn't be the first time he left the council and then returned.

Politics


If you live in Arlington or DC, your vote matters on Tuesday!

Virginia had its presidential primary long ago and DC's Democratic primary Tuesday won't affect who wins the nomination. But if you're a Democrat in DC or any voter in Arlington, your vote will absolutely matter in local races. Please vote!


Erik Gutshall (Arlington) and Robert White (DC).

Greater Greater Washington has endorsed Erik Gutshall for Arlington County Board and Robert White for DC Council at large, and Vincent Gray in Ward 7.

Why it's important vote in Arlington

Arlington's race may see low turnout because there's no federal or statewide contest at the same time, but the county board race will have a big impact on the future of Arlington. It's an important election.

Decades ago, Arlington was a declining inner-ring suburb where even getting a Home Depot was a faint hope. But a strategy of creating urban villages around the new Metro system has transformed the county into a national model.

The strong tax base from these urban areas (it gets 60% of its tax revenue from 11% of its land) let the county keep taxes low and services high. But when the recession, sequestration, and BRAC took a big bite out of office occupancy in Arlington, it created an opening for ambitious politicians to attack the county's leaders and appeal to voters who'd rather the county do less rather than more.

Libby Garvey was one of them. She has never articulated a strong vision for moving Arlington forward. For Arlington to retreat into mediocrity by slashing its ambitions to build a better place to live risks sending Arlington back to the past.

Erik Gutshall has demonstrated his commitment to a strong future for Arlington as a member of its planning commission. Also, as the owner of a home services business, he knows what it will take to woo businesses (and keep the county from driving them away); how to spend responsibly but also invest as necessary.

Residents of Arlington can speak loudly on Tuesday for a forward-looking—and responsible-spending—county by showing up to the polls and electing Erik Gutshall.

The primary is open to people of any party registration and all county board seats are elected at large, so all eligible voters can participate. Find your polling place here. Polls are open from 6 am to 7 pm.

Why it's important to vote in DC

While everyone on the DC Council is either a Democrat or a lifelong Democrat registered as an independent, that doesn't mean there aren't big differences between members—liberal versus conservative, urbanist versus not, motivated by a desire to improve DC versus personal ambition.

Too much (often all) of the political coverage is about things like who is on the "Green Team" or not, who's angling for another political office or not, and so on. That's mostly garbage. Greater Greater Washington focused on important issues facing the city, and if you agree with what we talk about, it's important to try to figure out which candidates actually would cast good votes on critical legislation.

Vincent Orange rarely does. Often it seems he doesn't even care about the issue, but is interested in angling for some political advantage, like when he agreed to flip a position on a key tax policy vote in exchange for an earmark for a parade at a theater whose board he's on.

I've talked to Robert White many times and he absolutely believes in the basic values our community holds dear. If you don't believe me, believe all of the other urbanist, environmental, and progressive groups and individuals that are supporting him.

David Garber also shares these values, but White has more experience, more political support, and the best chance of winning. From the beginning, I said I hoped people would figure out which of the two has the strongest support and all run to that side, hard as it might be for some.

Vince Gray was a dedicated, solid supporter of good urbanism, of a sustainable DC, of walking, biking, and transit, of adding housing to keep prices affordable, and much more. He's running against Yvette Alexander, one of the councilmembers who's been most consistently and openly contemptuous of the vision for DC we share here at Greater Greater Washington.

While allegations in a long-running investigation are potentially quite serious, that investigation was concluded with no charges, and he was objectively excellent on policy. Quite simply, having Gray on the council will shift a lot of votes in the right direction, and that matters.

Find your polling place here. You must be a registered Democrat in DC to vote in the Democratic primary (and no other party has a contested race).

Politics


For DC Council in Ward 7: Vince Gray

In DC's Ward 7, mostly east of the Anacostia River, former mayor Vince Gray is running to take back his old seat on the DC Council from Yvette Alexander. We hope voters will return him to the council.

While ethical issues from his campaign marred his mayoralty and serious questions still remain, on the policy issues, he was very strong. He was the champion of DC's ambitious sustainability plan and the forward-thinking moveDC plan which called for bus lanes, protected bikeways, and much more. Under Gray, the DC government set ambitious goals for the future, ones we can only hope the District comes close to achieving.

Even before his term as mayor, he was an excellent councilmember and an excellent chairman. Having him back in the legislature will be a major win for DC. When he chaired the council, he charted a constructive course toward DC's zoning update and other long-term planning processes.

Gray was never shy about saying, loudly and publicly, that DC should reduce its reliance on private cars. He's also been adamant that DC needs more housing. In response to a question on the issue, he said,

The District's zoning laws are arbitrary and impose a significant burden on further growth, especially for affordable housing. As mayor, I fought to change our height limitations in order to allow for the development of more high rise buildings to support more residents. As councilmember, I will support zoning changes to make building more affordable units easier and more straightforward.
Yvette Alexander, on the other hand, has been a poor councilmember. She has shown little to no leadership in her ward to improve bus service, despite the fact that large numbers of her constituents ride the bus and transit to many neighborhoods is not what it could be. (Compare that to Ward 5's Kenyan McDuffie, who recently fought for and won funding for a new express bus line on Rhode Island Avenue.)

Alexander criticized bicycling at a rally about the bikeway on Pennsylvania Avenue and told Dave Salovesh that she wanted to keep being able to make U-turns across the lane (a very dangerous maneuver).

She responded angrily on Twitter when we reported her opposition, insisting she supported barriers on Pennsylvania Avenue, but refused to specifically state she supported them in front of the John A. Wilson Building, where the councilmembers park.

Having Gray back on the council would likely mean a big boost for good public policy. We hope Ward 7 voters will choose him in the Democratic primary. Early voting begins May 31, and election day is June 14. You can find out more about times and places to vote here.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine endorsements, we invite regular contributors and editors to participate in a survey about their preferences and opinions about upcoming races. The editorial board then decides whether to make an endorsement.

Politics


For DC Council at large: Robert White

There's no doubt about it: Vincent Orange should not continue as a DC councilmember. There are two people vying to unseat him who would both make excellent councilmembers. In the Democratic primary on June 14, we urge voters to pick the one who has the best chance to win, and that is Robert White.

Robert White is a good candidate

For a race as important as this, there has sadly been little press coverage and other attention. If you haven't been hyper-engaged in the race, you may know little or nothing about Robert White, which is a shame, because he is a strong supporter of the issues that matter to the Greater Greater Washington community. We endorsed him (along with Elissa Silverman) in the general election two years ago.

White has said he supports rezoning areas such as Georgia Avenue NW, Rhode Island Avenue NE, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE to add housing. He wants to ensure that costs don't spiral out of control for middle-class families. "We have to look at all ways to increase housing options in order to push down the cost of housing," he told Edward Russell.

He's spoken in favor of adding more bus lanes, for expanding the bike lane network, and strengthening Metro, including with more funding as needed.

He has considerable public policy experience through working for many years in the office of Congresswoman Norton and then for DC Attorney General Karl Racine. He will understand how to get things done and involve residents effectively in the political process.

White has won the support of the DC Sierra Club, DC for Democracy, the JUFJ Campaign Fund, and councilmember Mary Cheh.

No to Orange

Vincent Orange, the incumbent, simply is not a constructive force on the DC Council. He introduces legislation that is simultaneously overly specific and poorly thought through.

He introduced sloppy (and likely illegal) legislation to stop creation of new housing. Then he jumped on the "tiny houses" bandwagon with a "gimmicky" piece of legislation. He even submitted two conflicting bills about Airbnb.

Maybe it's because we're wonks, but we'd like our elected officials and their staffs to actually be thinking about a policy issue and trying to solve it. Orange doesn't seem to.


Robert White (left) and David Garber (right) images from the candidates. Base balance scale image from Shutterstock.

What about David Garber?

The third candidate in the race is David Garber. We like him a great deal. In fact, he has been an active part of the Greater Greater Washington community in the past. A number of our contributors are his personal friends. He has a strong grasp of policy issues and good values about them.

While an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the Navy Yard area, he consistently supported adding more housing while also fighting for more affordable housing. He posted a really smart series of tweets about this issue recently, which sound just like what we might say.

On transportation, Garber has cheered efforts toward dedicated bus lanes. He told Edward Russell, "I think it's really important that we invest in things like better dedicated bus service and 16th Street NW is a great example of that."

He would make an excellent councilmember, and if he were in a head to head race with Vincent Orange, we would eagerly endorse him.

However, the fact of this race is that there are two candidates who are very strong on our issues. There is little actual policy difference between David Garber and Robert White; meanwhile, Robert White has an advantage on experience and, most importantly, likelihood of winning.

When should you vote strategically?

In the past, there's been considerable debate among our readers, contributors, and editors about whether to vote for the person you like the most, or the one who's most likely to beat a bad alternative.

During Vincent Orange's last race in 2012, Sekou Biddle almost beat him, with 39% of the vote to Orange's 42%. But Peter Shapiro, whom we endorsed, ended up with 11%. If enough of Shapiro's supporters had gone to Biddle over Orange, Biddle could have prevailed.

Other times, "vote your heart" has had value. Sometimes a candidate doesn't win, but getting more votes positions him or her for a later run. In a 2013 special election, we supported Elissa Silverman. She didn't win (Anita Bonds did), but her strong performance positioned her well for the following year's at-large independent contest, where she won a seat.

This contest, however, is somewhat different from 2012. Robert White is genuinely a good candidate, not a distant second best. Some allied groups that supported Shapiro in 2012 are now enthusiastically behind White. There are both fewer (if any) reasons not to support White, and a stronger accumulating consensus in his favor.

In giving their views on the race, several contributors said they liked Garber, but simply didn't know White that well; many said that if White seemed to have the edge, they'd rally to his side. We wish there were a good, independent poll to help people decide (it's very unclear whether to put any stock in this one).

We actually had a whole post written about how we weren't quite yet ready to make up our minds. After more endorsements for White rolled in and evidence mounted that he had the strongest chance to beat Orange, our editors and many contributors agreed that voters would do best to support Robert White.

Early voting begins May 31, and election day is June 14. There is no contested race for any party other than the Democrats. You can find out more about times and places to vote here.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine endorsements, we invite regular contributors and editors to participate in a survey about their preferences and opinions about upcoming races. The editorial board then decides whether to make an endorsement.

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